In the past, I've been taught that a good Christian always strives to “spill the gospel beans” in every conversation with a non-Christian. In other words, every time I'm speaking with a non-Christian, I need to work an angle so that I can share the good news that Christ died for them. If I don't, I'm unloving and a bad Christian. After all, don't I care if the other person is saved?
While it is true that Christ came to re-establish a relationship between God and man by taking the just punishment that we deserve on himself, trying to shove that information down someone's throat will almost guarantee a rejection of the good news. The listener doesn't know where you're coming from. He isn't interested in your message and frankly, I will just look downright crazy if I did that in every conversation. My testimony would be weak.
And it's a lot of pressure trying to do this at every conversation! How then, can we be good gospel bearers?
1 Peter 3:15
...but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect...
Peter teaches us a few things in this verse. First is to be always prepared to make a defense. That means we need to be ready at any time to share the gospel message. As Christians, we need to be ready day or night, tired or fresh, in busyness or in leisure time, to explain the gospel clearly so that the one asking can understand the good news. We need to get trained on sharing accurately. (More about this in a later post.)
Secondly, Peter adds that we need to do this not with fire and brimstone but with gentleness and respect. In other words, there's no browbeating or cajoling. You have to speak lovingly but with conviction. And the key is the second word: respect.
This respect, I believe, goes both ways. I was just in a discussion with a missionary friend and he said this respect implies a relationship. And it implies trust. Think of street evangelism where you pounce on a stranger to share the gospel. It's doesn't have a high success rate. Why? Because you have no relationship with the other person, and as a result, there is lack of trust. Your message cannot be trusted.
But building trust through building a relationship makes the gospel message credible. As a follower of Christ, I am called to love others and loving others means to reach out and build good friendships with the people around me. (More on building friendships in a later post.)
When we are no longer strangers, my friend will be so much open to hearing about the hope that I have. When there is trust, people know you care about them and want the best for them. When you do have that relationship, they are willing to listen. In fact, they will ask you about the gospel. (More on how to open up a discussion that leads to a gospel sharing in a later post.)
We need to understand that it takes time, trust and respect in order to have someone be willing to hear the good news. You can’t rush to spill the gospel beans so to speak, because all you will be doing is talking into the wind and you’ve made the other person more gospel-resistant.